Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Bull from the Sea is the sequel to Mary Renault’s earlier novel The King Must Die (1958), which concludes as Theseus, the young prince of Athens, returns triumphantly from Crete. Theseus narrates both novels in the first person, and as with The King Must Die, the plot of The Bull from the Sea unfolds chronologically, arranged in sections named for the geographical settings of the action.

In the first section, “Marathon,” Theseus’ return is marred by the death of his father, Aegeus, who, believing that his son is dead because Theseus failed to change his sail color to white, leaps to his death. Theseus’ first order of business as Athens’ new king is to arrange a fitting funeral for Aegeus. Always politically shrewd, Theseus immediately begins the unification of Attica by ensuring the loyalties of the local barons and eliminating those who would impede unification. One of these is the mythic character Procrustes, whom Theseus orders killed in the famous bed that was used to shorten or lengthen victims’ bodies.

After fighting a war in Crete to secure his power there, Theseus visits Troizen, the city where he was reared by his grandfather King Pittheus. His mother, Aithra, a priestess of Mother Dia (Demeter, goddess of fertility), decides that he must undergo cleansing rites of appeasement. She believes that Mother Dia, also called “the Mother,” is angry because Theseus changed the...

(The entire section is 600 words.)